Ronaldo doesn’t abide by the rules, he makes them

MADRID - FEB 23: Cristiano Ronaldo in action at the Champions League match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Manchester United at the Metropolitano Stadium on February 23, 2022 in Madrid, Spain.

The main message from Ronaldo’s interview is that when it comes to ending his career, he controls the narrative

Slavery, “fake” fans, ban on alcohol, LGBTQ+ and human rights, corruption. FIFA and Qatar did everything they could to rule out any chance of positive publicity for the 2022 World Cup. Then came Cristiano Ronaldo to their rescue. Being the winner that he is, he couldn’t let this World Cup’s spotlight, his fifth and last, be on anything else besides him. Insert interview with Piers Morgan.

Let’s face it, the competition for attention is tough enough even if we put aside all the Qatar-hosting-related scandals. This tournament offers some great football stories. The long list of veterans coming in for their last dance, handing over the baton to the exciting group of debutants. The top tier coaches, the return of Christian Eriksen, Canada and Wales making a comeback to the big stage, Benzema and Mane’s injury, and it goes on and on. 

But Ronaldo is not the kind to just blend in. In his mind, he saw how he’s going to be remembered for the past few months in Manchester United. How the last significant frames of his career will be going down the Old Trafford tunnel after refusing to come in against Spurs. Instead of passively fading out and letting everyone else do the talking, the Portuguese giant reclaimed ownership over the narrative.

Every word in his interview has already been the center of heated discussion. But it all felt a bit vain, kept in the framework of codes of conduct to which Ronaldo just doesn’t abide. “Show respect to your club and manager.” As if he cares. Erik ten Hag is an anecdote in his Wikipedia page. “Remain humble.” Yeah, right. Like, have you been following the guy over the past couple of decades? “It’s below your level.” His level is so high up that only he gets to decide what’s below it. All of these moral judgements are in the realms of us debating mortals, whereas he’s way beyond that. Retiring as a consensus? Leave that to Philipp Lahm. Ronaldo is so confident with what he’s achieved, that he’s using his credits as if they’re infinite. To be honest, they pretty much are.

By lashing out against his current employer, international football’s all time top scorer placed all of his jetons on the 2022 World Cup. Club football simply has nothing to offer to him anymore. Now, he has two options: 

  1. Winning the World Cup and retiring as the GOAT.
  2. Losing and finishing his career in search of a tier two club who’ll agree to take him. 

Of course, the endless comparison with Messi is one of the driving forces behind all of this. In strictly footballing terms, there’s no clear-cut answer to the question: “who’s the better player?” With everything unrelated to football, it’s a matter of taste. Ronaldo was always the outspoken one, the most-followed on social media one. It’s his home-turf. The Argentine would’ve never given such an interview, even though he surely has a mouthful about his former-club, Barcelona. 

So why did it come to this? How is the end to a 20-year strong career, with a Guinness Book of Records chapter named after it, at stake during one month in Qatar? Mainly due to bad decision making since leaving Real Madrid. But that’s in hindsight. We’re old enough to remember the praise he got for leaving his comfort zone. In his imagination, he was returning to his struggling former club and carrying it back to glory days, while Messi eases through weak opposition in Ligue 1. Unfortunately for him, things didn’t quite turn that way. 

How will things turn out now in Qatar? That’s the biggest question on the eve of the tournament. The videos surfacing showing a cold shoulder from Bruno Fernandes and Ronaldo’s latest antics during Portugal duty support a scenario of total breakdown. The opposite case is one in which the striker will channel the negativity to silence his critics, like he’s done so many times in the past. 

Winning the World Cup will save Ronaldo a lot of dilemmas. “Yeah. Retired. 100 percent,” was his answer when asked if he’ll hang his boots in the event of lifting the trophy. For football fans, whatever side you’re on in this debate, such a scenario will provide an almost unprecedented Hollywood-ish climax. A story you’ll probably see in different versions, both documentary and fiction, on every streaming platform. Remember Zidane bowing down after the most dramatic ending to a World Cup final? In that scale, only multiple times more. Prepare the popcorn and sit back. Whatever happens, Ronaldo made sure it’s going to be one hell of a ride. 

Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento in Guadalajara

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